Saturday, July 14, 2012

Turkey Trip - Day 6: Konya

Saturday morning. After breakfast in the hotel's lower level, Elaine and I walked to the fascinating Mevlana Museum which was crowded with pilgrims plus a wedding party.

This popular museum is the burial site of Rumi and features multiple tableaux of the lives of his followers at that time in history. (And pleasantly surprised by the nearby bike rack.)

Later, we walked to the Aladdin hill and another mosque, then returned via taxi for lunch at the Dervish hotel with the owner's older brother who had an international carpet business. That meant a trip to his office where we both photographed many carpets. However we excused ourselves once he began talking about his meeting up with an old love in Istanbul.

Time for another taxi trip to a tile museum followed by a walk to the Stone and Wood museum.

In one museum, I was excited and stunned to see a set of nesting bowls that is similar to a set of bowls I have at home in Minneapolis. Mine were bought as American Express premiums years ago and I always thought they were oriental. They are so precious to me that before I left for the Peace Corps, I had distributed my nesting bowls to 5 friends to keep while I was away. What a surprise to discover they were of Turkish design aka yes, oriental!

Always anticipating our next excursion, we bought bus tickets to Pammulke, then opted for pizza at Sifa restaurant in Konya. The Saturday evening performances by the Sufi was the primary reason for our visit to this out-of-the-way town. A new 2100-seat Cultural Center had been built for this, and we were not disappointed. We were joined by 2 Taiwanese tourists Debbie and Peggy who we had met earlier in the day. The evening ended with a round-about walk to our hotel looking for a place that sold Efes beer. To our disappointment, no alcohol in any shops.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Turkey Trip - Day 5: On our way to Konya

Early morning breakfast at the hotel before we left to get a comfortable Kamil Kac bus to Konya. This daylong trip was the best way to get to Konya, the home of the “whirling dervishes,” i.e., the Sufi sect of Islam that is considered a living heritage in Turkey. Our bus tickets included seat assignments and several stops along the way to pick up more passengers. One stop had the driver escorting me to the restroom, waiting for me, then escorting me back to the correct bus.

The mountain scenery and fields of wheat and barley were mesmerizing, but I did get in some reading of The Hunger Games on my Kindle as well as a nap. At one stop I wrote that we apparently feasted on an onion snack, sesame balls, almonds, cherry juice and chocolate. At the 30-minute stop at Anhara, the bus driver asked for my email address even tho' he couldn't speak English, and he gave me his. Oh my!

We arrived in Konya about 8:30 pm, but the local taxi driver couldn't find our recently renovated Hotel Dervis. Our Azerbaijani didn't work so well, but we finally arrived at the hotel which was a large home recently restored into a delightful hotel. The younger brother of the owner drove us in his pick-up truck to a restaurant that was still open. In its large outdoor garden, there were two long tables nearby of about 20 men eating. It was Friday after mosque. We seemed a bit of curiosity to them. After a dinner of lamb and vegetables, we somehow found our way back to Hotel Dervis walking in the dark. Feeling very safe.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Turkey Trip - Day 4: Haram Museum and 1453 Panorama

We walked to Topkapi Palace(25 TL) for 9am opening plus the Haram Museum (15 TL) within. Took lots of photos before my camera battery died: caftans, jewels, gifts from other governments and royals.

It was built in the 15th century as an official complex then made by Suleyman into official residence.

After long morning tour, we took the tram to the Eminonu stop for a winding walk to the Spice Bazaar. An upper restaurant Pandeli was recommended for a lunch of eggplant salad & ayran. It seemed pretty dead, so we headed down to the warren of shops. Then a long walk to Sulimonye Mosque by Sinan architect – no photography allowed.

Returned by tram to the Topkapi stop where guide Carl had earlier shown us the breach in the Roman wall. We wanted to view this incredible diorama of the 1453 conquest of Constantinople by the Ottomans. By far, this was the best educational tourist stop with audio tours in 8 different languages.

Returning to Sarnic hotel, we had our photo taken with Nadira, and the hotel staff helped order a bus for us for travel to Konya on Friday. For dinner, we ate at the hotel's rooftop restaurant where we were greeted effusively by a young waiter. Then we waited 20 – 25 minutes for our drink order to arrive! My appetizer sampler (dolmate, tomato salad, eggplant salad, & fresh cheese) was out done by Elaine's order of sea bass which was painstakingly de-boned by the same youthful waiter. Alas, dessert and service went down hill as we waited nearly 20 minutes for our check. Then back to our room to pack for the next morning's travel.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Turkey Trip - Day 3: Blue Mosque and more

Continental breakfast at 8am in the lower level of our hotel. Although much updated, the halls and stairs in this older building were narrow and confusing. It seems like every older building in Istanbul has some kind of spiral staircase that was an after-thought when the building was first constructed.

Quick walk to the Blue Mosque and Sofia Haqqia (25 Turkish Lira entry fee is about $10 US), then lunch at nearby “Cafe Meatball.”

For souvenirs, I spotted a felt doll and bought 3 sets of postcards of 3 different historic sites. After a nap, we figured out how to take the train to the Grand Bazaar where I bought a unique purse. Heading back to the hotel, we spent some time looking for a T-shop for mascara. At one point we realized that many restaurants are rooftop and not easily seen at ground level. We were hungry and thirsty so the Pierre Loti Hotel was our choice for beer and lemonade and a visit from a freeloading pigeon!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Turkey Trip - Day 2: Arriving in Istanbul

So sweet to have Elaine's host father, mother, and sister drive us to the airport at 6:30am for our 8:30 flight to Istanbul via Onur airlines. We arrived at 10:30 at Ataturk airport Istanbul, fumbled around for visa entry money in Turkish lira, then took a taxi to the Sarnic Hotel in the oldest part of Istanbul. Our room wasn't ready, so we left our bags and walked to an area along the Bosphorus for calamari lunch. When we returned to the hotel, we got a quick tour of the building from young hotel employee, Nadira. She was excited to tell us that she began learning English from PCV Ralph Murray/Murphy in her native country of Kazakhstan. She still remembers his name and admitted to having a crush on him.

I used the computer at the front desk to got an internet connection to the Vayama website. That's the site for arranging personal tours, so we agreed to meet up at 4pm with Carl McMahon, native of Boston and history tour guide in Istanbul. We started with a train ride to the Topkapi stop, saw part of the old wall, toured Kariye Museum - formerly a Christian church - then shared a taxi to get to a ferry boat heading north on the Bosphorus.

Ferries are a traditional and much used way for Istanbul residents to cross from the European side to the Asian side. One of the 2 suspension bridges crossing the Bosphorus was only finished in 1988.

We 3 disembarked for real yogurt, then took a “dolmas” yellow taxi to Kadikoy. Nothing like a fried cheese salad and Efes beer at a restaurant in an old ferry building. Elaine and I were on our own taking a ferry back, then the train, and finally the hidden walk to our hotel. The tour provided a good overview of places we'd like to see again, plus how to manage the ferries and train to get around to more of Istanbul.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Turkey Trip - Day 1: Getting to Ganja

For 7 manat ($10), I boarded a large un-air conditioned bus in Masalli to meet up with Elaine in Ganja for the start of our 2-week travel in Turkey. I was prepared for a 7-hour ride that included a one-hour stretch over the worst unpaved road in AZ. This particular bus was already 2/3 full of chairs for delivery somewhere enroute from a furniture factory. Midway thru the trip there's a pit-stop for tea and lunch and maybe purchase a phone card.

During the summer families are often traveling to visit relatives in other parts of Azerbaijan. Sometimes women approach me to ask where I'm from, are helpful in showing me the path to the toilet, or may want their daughter to meet me. I use my limited Azerbaijani language for basic conversation, might practice English with a school girl, and may even accept their invitation to sit with them and eat together.

As the bus approached Ganja, it veered off the road to a newly constructed wedding palace to unload the chairs. The driver enlisted the help of other male passengers before we continued to Ganja.

Another surprise as the bus approached this large city: the main bus station in Ganja was under-construction! So instead of stopping nearby, the driver just started announcing where he would stop. (As if everyone knows where they want to get off in a city of 250,000!) I got off at some intersection where others were getting off, and began texting Elaine furiously about my location. Since her Russian host family was picking me up, we had 3-way messaging going with her English-speaking host sister. While I'm standing at some busy corner, I heard my name called out and there was Sabrina and her parents in a car to pick me up. What a relief! Elaine's host mother has prepared a huge supper for us, and we made plans for the next morning's flight from Ganja International airport to Istanbul!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

2 Week Vacation in Turkey - July, 2012

So glad that fellow PCV Elaine is a great traveler and planner. She's taken charge of making air, bus and hotel arrangements as we leave for Istanbul, Konya, and Cappadocia before we end our Peace Corps service in December. There's a 90 day window before the Close of Service when we cannot be out of Azerbaijan, so we're traveling during the hot and quiet summer before we need to stay at site.
First I'll take an 7 hour bus trip to Ganja to meet up with her, then we'll fly together to Istanbul and begin out trek. Thanks to Trip Advisor, Elaine has identified a hotel in the heart of old Istanbul and walking distance to Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, and the spice bazar. My contribution was to find a local English-speaking guide via Vayama to give us a 4-hour history tour of Istanbul. We'll also travel via bus to Konya to see the Sufi "whirling dervishes", stay in a cave hotel in Cappadocia, and take a hot air balloon ride! So many things to do, and great to have a travel friend.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

It's the little things that matter

Recently I got a ride home from the father of one of my teachers. It wasn't the first time someone has offered me a ride or gone out of their way to help me. 

This particular man is a gentleman about my age, and has worked as a translator at the Astara border crossing to Iran. His daughter Shalala is becoming my best English teacher because it is only her second year of teaching and she is eager to become a good teacher.

As I got out of his car he emphasized, "please call me for anything you need at all," and added, "Consider me your brother as I think of you as my sister." To me this has great meaning in this culture because men's role is to protect women. Even young boys are expected to look after their older sisters at school and through out their lives. Essentially he was offering to look after me as he would a sister.

Earlier that day two young boys in the photo shop assisted me promptly. Usually men get waited on in stores before women. I could be standing at the counter, but if a man comes into a shop after me he gets waited on first. But this time the boys in the shop recognized me from school and printed a document I needed for school first.

Often when I am riding in a marsrutka, people who recognize me will pay my fare. Sometimes I don't realize this until I am getting off and the driver indicates that someone already paid for me. Other times I am waiting for a marsrutka, and a driver will stop their car and open the passenger door for me to ride in the back seat. Several times this has been people I hardly recognize. I always feel safe.

The mother of my student Georgie has twice sent him over with plov (rice pilaf) and roast chicken for my dinner. During recent hot weather he has also brought me a carton of ice cream.

It is just those little things that make me smile at how I am seen here. First of all being older is a definite asset. After I started riding my bicycle to and from school, I could hear my name Peggy Hanum spoken as I rode past houses and stores. Little boys want to race me on their bikes, but I draw the line there. No way!

Here's a photo of Afat, an English teacher at another school. We get together once a week to practice our foreign languages. By the way, she only wears the scarf when she walks outside. This one is particularly lovely.